Monday, December 29, 2008

My Summer and Winter Surfing

My Summer and Winter Surfing

I've skied a lot in my collage days, and while chasing for the best (powder) condition is something skiers do travel many miles for, surfing requires a lot more local traveling for the "acceptable" condition.

In the summer in Northern California, I tend to look for places where there is the least influence on the prevailing NW winds. The NW gusts often continues for days and weeks at a time. Avoiding the winds is on top of my list and it is often the case that in the early morning the winds are not as bad. Come to think of it, when I used to wind-sailing, we look for about 2 PM when the winds pick up the most. But now I am a surfer, I tend to get up early and go surf before the winds kick up.

The additional complication of course is to find the place where the waves are breaking. In the area where I live near Half Moon Bay, California, most places are open to W to NW waves, but also unfortunate fact of this is that NW winds blow straight on-shore, and that makes it quite difficult. This require me to explore many places. I tend to cover more beaches in the summer going Half Moon Bay to northern Santa Cruz county.

In the winter the situation is often completely different. The NW winds still blow more often than not, but not like days and weeks in the spring and the summer. There are few days, probably every other week or so, of impossibly huge swells. That will make it almost impossible for me to get out, so I substitute surfing with indoor balance-board exercise. As it turned out for me, that was actually quite helpful in short-boarding, so I would really recommend to anyone who is planning to transition from LB to SB or just to keep the hip and knee strength up. I think that the result is really noticeable and dramatic.

In between these big swells are really sweet periods, but unlike in the summer, as for the spot options are concerned, they become more limited. For example, going anywhere south of Half Moon Bay is generally not an option unless you go past the county line, and Montara is no longer an option either for me. But on the other hands places that are sleepy all through the summer (except for the south swell days) all wake up, and after a few big days, the sand-bar seems to form back again. When the buoy says it is at 8 ft or less and 12 seconds or less of the period and often the wind has stopped or slightly SE/SW then we are in a real treat in this area. With a few surf checks, we can tune in for a right spot for us and go in, have a good hour or two of a session on really shaped up waves and a lot more power than in the summer time.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Winter Surfing Safety Checkup

Winter Surfing Safety Checkup

How I Have Been Reducing Surfing Injuries

The winter surf season is upon us, California surfers like us as I remember our past, most surfing accidents did occur in fall and winter seasons. It is the time when the swells are more powerful, and also the wind speed and direction change frequently. Not being athletic, I had a lot of injuries at the beginning but I can say that the more I surfed, the more I got a skill to surf defensively and so I managed to significantly reduced the total number of injuries I get per year. I am surfing a lot too so this means that the overall statistical chance of getting a surf injury for me has gotten significantly smaller.  Should the statistical rate of accidents remained the same from the start to now, I would be writing more WavLOGs dealing with injuries but that did not quite happen.

My Relationship With the Board

Surfboard, for me, is just a tool or means to surf and so I do not really have any personal love relationship with any of them. I don't go out of my way to protect it and if I am not on top of it, I will stay as far away from it as possible. For me getting the board dinged up is part of a business so unless it is functionally affecting the board (e.g., leaks) I won't even bother fixing it. And when I am just about to end a ride and I cannot cleanly turn the board back around, which is most of the time for me, I usually push the board as away from me using my knees. And after a major wipe out, especially with a long board, I will stay under the water for a while since I almost always know when the board has shot up in the air. Knowing whereabouts of the board at all times is a skill being gained as surfers mature in their art of wave riding.

What happens if a big set is coming at me and I have nowhere to run?  I honestly say, I'd bail big time if it is safe to do so.  It is safe  if nobody is around and instead of paddling out frantically I would throw the board toward the shore as hard as I can just at the moment the wave is ready to crush over me then I'd dive under the water. Doing this, the board won't fly up in the sky and at the worst case, you'd be dragged under but it is otherwise safe. 

Speaking of this, if it is crowded and if it is big, we should both know that it is way beyond you and my ability to safely surf. I won't even go in in the first place (and I now know that), paddle back if it is building up or find another less crowded and possibly smaller spot that suits my abilities. But, if there are people around, I will do my best to hang on to the board. When it comes to huring others, protect the others around you and you come the last.

Looking back, though, whenever I was injured, I was there in situation that were way over my limit. To be very very honest though the worst part of that is that I was not aware that it was way over my limit or I was acting unnecessarily cocky. The nature knows this very well and it will always teach you to be humble and make sure I know I was a bad boy. Especially the ocean is both gentle enough (will not likely to completely kill you) and harsh enough to demonstrate I was way over my limit (come back with shiners, broken bones, teeth etc.)

Keep Your Mouth Shut

I've been punished several times by keeping my mouth open while I am surfing that during any critical maneuvers, say paddling out, hitting the shore-breaks, and especially when taking off. I will keep my mouth and clenching jaw. This really helps save your teeth when the board comes up and hit your lower jaw. This actually happens more often at Half Moon Bay Jetty where the waves double up a lot. An open jaw can invite injuries from biting tongues to cracked teeth.

Wearing a Helmet

This is something I used to do a lot, but as dorky as it looks, it has really helped me from getting more injuries. I think of all other safety equipment, this is probably the one of the best investment a beginner can make. One time was when the board shot in the air and came straight down on top of my head with the tail edge down. Should I not have had a helmet on, I could possibly have been knocked unconscious. Helmet can also prevent your jaw bones which can be expensive and time-consuming to repair.
I will still wear it in crowded situations especially there are a lot of long-boarders around. I really don't trust other surfers.

Sanding the Fin Edges Down

Dulling the edge of the fins is a bit of good idea to prevent cuts from the fins and for most of us the performance difference is not noticeable.

The Mechanism of Accidents

There is a reason why things happen when you are least expecting, but as we all learn the surfing skills, we begin to have a bit more information processing power in our brains as to what to expect and become being able to know the surrounding and situations. Good people always are keenly aware of their surroundings whereas beginners are almost always oblivious to everything in surfing environment, not seeing the waves, constantly dropping in or being drooped in, colliding and such. I must admit I had to go though that phase but as I learned the skills, I had starting to acquire a lot more about how to understand the surroundings. This is actually difficult and does take time because we normally move in essentially a 2D world where everything is solid, and we are not so used to navigating in a 3D world where everything is rather soft (and turn nearly solid at times.) And the problem begins there. We try to apply our 2D experience into this soft 3D environment, and often it does not work at all.

Be Humble

One thing being in the ocean and outdoors taught me is that we have to approach the ocean with the humblest of the attitude every time. Many of seasoned expert surfer friends told me times and over that when they got some accident, they could only blame themselves for it.